Weight gain from out-of-control cravings aside, it can be frustrating to have a constant hankering for something unhealthy and not know why. The good news is that there's usually a reason underlying that burning desire to house a bag of potato chips or the feeling that youВ might actually dieВ if you don't get a pickle right this instant (even though you're not pregnant). If you're having visions of Milky Way bars, for example, it could mean that you're missing a very specific nutrient in your diet.В (Yup-it's more complicated than said chocolate barВ being so darn delicious.)
We talked to Los Angeles-based dietitian Shira Lenchewski, M.S., R.D., to get the skinny on some common food cravings, as well asВ what you can do to satiate the hunger without going overboard.
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It means: You could be lacking magnesium in your diet, says Lenchewski. вЂњMagnesium is an essential mineral involved in energy production, glucose metabolism, and muscle function.В This is especially true for those hitting the gym hard,вЂќ she explains. Additionally, magnesium levels lower during the pre-menstrual weeks of your period, which explains why PMS so often comes with chocolate cravings.В
Instead, reach forВ high-quality, low-sugar dark chocolate, which is naturally high in magnesium.В вЂњI recommend sticking to 70 percent cocoa or higher, and pairing it with another magnesium-rich source like sunflower seeds,вЂќ says Lenchewski. She suggests the chocolate brand Hu, a small-batch food company that focuses on high-quality ingredients produced locally. вЂњIt's a little pricey, but all the more reason to keep portions in check,вЂќ she says. вЂњIt's my personal favorite." We're also big fans of superfood-packed Freaky Healthy Chocolate.
It means:В вЂњCravingВ pure sugar is a good indication that you're running low on energy,вЂќ says Lenchewski. вЂњThink about it.В What is the one thing you're itching for after a terrible night's sleep or at around 4 p.m. during a stressful workday?В The answer is usually sugar because it's used as instant fuel for our body's cells.вЂќВ
Instead, reach forВ apples with nut butter. вЂњIf you're raiding your co-workers' candy stash, I recommend a more slow-burn carbohydrate with a source of fat or protein,вЂќ says Lenchewski. вЂњUnlike simple sugar, this will fuel your cells while avoiding the post-sugar crash. Two options that make for great pick-me-ups the next time you're craving candy: a sliced apple with your choice of nut butter, or berries with 2% unsweetened Greek yogurt.вЂќ We like quashing a sweet tooth with these addictive coconut chips, too-they're filling, free of any added sugar, and just soВ good.
It means: вЂњIf nothing but the saltiest pickle will do, you may not be drinking enough H2O,вЂќ says Lenchewski. вЂњSalt helps the body hold on to water, so we crave it when we're in need of fluids.вЂќ
Instead, reach for water. вЂњStay hydrated, especially as we approach the summer months,вЂќ she says. The next time a craving hits, try quenching it (literally) with a few refreshing glasses and you might find the urgency to sodium binge disappears. вЂњIf plain water bores you, try adding in mint, lemon, or frozen fruit to mix it up,вЂќ says Lenchewski. And if that still doesn't do the trick, there's a healthier alternative to bagged chips or french fries. вЂњIf you're really justВ cravingВ salt, after all, toasted seaweed is a great low-calorie option,вЂќ she says.В
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It means: вЂњBecause high-carb foods boost the feel-good hormone serotonin, starchВ cravingsВ can be a sign you're in need of a mood booster,вЂќ says Lenchewski.В
Instead, reach forВ a bath! вЂњBust out the Epsom salts, because it's time for some serious R+R,вЂќ says Lenchewski. вЂњTrust me.В Indulging in a starch free-for-all feels really good at the moment, but it will likely bum you out more the next day.вЂќ (As anyone who has ever indulged a pizza or pasta craving knows.) So the next time you want to dive headfirst into a bowl of carbs, draw a bath, light a candle, and treat yourself without any regret or dense calories.В
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It means: вЂњYour body may be telling you it's in need of some healthy fat.вЂќ
Instead, reach forВ coconut ice cream. вЂњI'm a realist, so if you'reВ cravingВ ice cream, I'm not going to recommend a handful of walnuts, which are, of course, full of healthy fat,вЂќ says Lenchewski. вЂњFor ice-cream emergencies, I recommend lower-in-sugar coconut ice-creams like Coconut Bliss or Kippy's three-ingredient ice cream in Los Angeles.вЂќ We can vouch for the fact that coconut ice cream tastes incredibleВ and just like the real thing.В
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It means: You need iron. вЂњIf you can't stop thinking about red meat, there's a chance your body isВ cravingВ iron, b12, and folic acid,вЂќ says Lenchewski. вЂњThis is especially true during or around that time of the month.вЂќВ
Instead, reach forВ a healthier burger. вЂњI'm a proponent of grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free red meat once a week,вЂќ says Lenchewski.В вЂњTry experimenting with an open-faced bison burger-which, cut for cut, is leaner and has more iron than beef.вЂќ Don't eat meat? Try to incorporate some kind of plant-based iron supplement into your routine, like spirulina.В Emily Roberts/Byrdie